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Stephen Muss (Miami)

From the ashes, we will rise.

When I heard that we would be taking a tiyul to Poland I really didn’t know what to think or to expect. Was it wrong to be excited? Was it OK to not cry? What if it’s not the experience I had hoped for? These were all questions whirring around in my head. 

From a very young age, I had been learning about the Holocaust and had already known most of the things that we were taught in a core class. Due to the fact that I knew so much going into Poland, I wanted the trip to be about me finding on my own personal connection with that part of our history and really understanding it through an emotional rather than academic perspective. I had always seen gruesome pictures or seen numbers, but now I had the opportunity to go see everything with my own eyes and I knew that I couldn’t take advantage of it. Of course, I was still eager to learn new things about pre and post Shoah and visit the places related to them. To learn about the pre-Shoah period we went to many synagogues, some were absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. It pained me to think that these synagogues that were once filled with so much life and joy are now not even used for much more than tourism. We also saw some cemeteries to truly understand pre-Shoah. The cemeteries showed that many people saw their descendants living in Poland and coming to visit their grave so they built very extravagant ones. Those are all now covered in vines because the people who were supposed to pay respects and maintain the grave probably died in the Holocaust.  Polish Jews had an amazing life in Poland. They were able to be Jews and Poles and many were super successful and even had some economic power.

It’s crazy to think that someones peaceful, comfortable, fulfilling life can be ripped away from it them quickly. That scared me because they never thought anything could happen to them just like most Jews in America think they are perfectly safe. To learn about the Shoah itself we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Lupochovo Forest, and many other places where horrid and inhumane things occurred. I did get very emotional in the Lupochovo Forest and also the cattle car that we went in. These places impacted me most in in particular because of how small and intimate they were unlike Auschwitz which was huge and museum-like. Lastly, we learned about post-Shoah Poland by meeting teens, rabbis, and members of the Jewish community in Poland and hearing about how their lives are like here. Turns out, it’s not that different from my life in America, which is a good thing. Overall, if there is anything that I’m going to take from this trip to Poland its that no matter how many times they try to kill the Jews, we are here to stay and our fighting spirit will ensure that. From the ashes, we will rise.